Review by Rick Ossian
In order to celebrate their first decade in the business, these stalwart symphonic metal giants from the Netherlands released a veritable behemoth of a live show, titled, conveniently enough, Retrospect. It was recorded on 13/3/2013, in the Klokgebouw (Bell Building) in Eindhoven, Netherlands. This enormous tour-de-force (2 DVD or Blu-ray, 3cd) is a joy to listen to from front to back. The extravaganza includes special guest appearances (Floor Jansen of Nightwish and ReVamp fame), a 70-piece orchestra (Extended Remenyl Ede Chamber Orchestra) and the Miskolc National Theater Choir. No big deal, you may be scoffing into your cornflakes as I type? Check it out, be ye a non-believer!
Epica features Simone Simons on vocals (and not just any vocals), Mark Jansen (After Forever) and Isaac Delahaye (God Dethroned) on guitars, Rob van der Loo on bass, Coen Janssen on keys and Arien van Weesenbeek (also formerly of God Dethroned) on drums. Sounding somewhat akin to an angelic thrash symphony, Epica will floor you with their mix of classical motifs (Vivaldi, Pergolesi, John Williams) and the key elements of symphonic rock and progressive metal. Yes, you will hear plenty of growling (Monopoly on Truth, Martyr of the Free Word, The Obsessive Devotion, Battle of the Heroes and Imperial March), but there are also many numbers- most, in fact, which feature the skyward vocalizations of Simone (Siren) Simons. There are instrumentals, as well, mainly of the classical/symphonic variety, and plenty of crowd participation, and you can actually hear the brass and the violins! Not your typical metal reverie, then. This tour-de-force is one of unprecedented proportions. Let’s get to the meat of it, then, shall we?
Introspect is a classical instrumental, featuring what I normally refer to as angel/demon-type chanting, and some lovely guitar work to start of the show. We are soon swept away by the prog-thrash, if you will, of the aforementioned Monopoly on Truth, with its heavy guitars and double-bass drum thump. There is also a tasty guitar solo at about six-and-a-half minutes in. Sensorium continues the onslaught with more of the same, including the announcements that are mainly in English, though Simone gallantly recognizes (to thunderous audience approval) the fact that there may have been well over 50 separate languages spoken in the room that night.
Unleashed offers up something of a Vampirella vibe, and not for the last time. There is a gorgeous violin intro here, and, yes, bongos and congas even! The violin motif continues throughout, as this track takes on a musical journey of sorts. Martyr of the Free Word is a vocal extravaganza, as are many of the tracks on offer here. It features a hard-charging intro, mixed with classical figures (again) – think of a more metallic version of Trans Siberian Orchestra, perhaps (erm, maybe Savatage?), and you would definitely be on the right track.
Chasing the Dragon is another epic journey, which shifts into overdrive and some very busy drumming at about five-and-a-half minutes in. Presto features more of the same, only instrumentally so, and boasts a wickedly cool intro with much more busy percussion. Never Enough includes a good central riff, and is enigmatic in delivery – almost addictively so. This particular track is almost ‘regular’ heavy rock, if you will – perhaps even FM radio fodder.
Stabat Mater Dolorosa is one of the ‘special guest’ numbers, as we hear that Floor Jansen has just mounted the stage. She is impervious, even glacial in vocal approach, and lends a somewhat churchy vibe to the proceedings. Very powerful vocal performance(s), indeed. Twin Flames (a requiem of sorts, according to their Facebook bio) again features a lovely violin intro, and a forest vibe, if you will. More stately vocals, especially at the close, and the piano outro is just perfect. Again, according to their Facebook bio, this track had hitherto not been performed live.
Serenade of Self-Destruction is a beautifully melodic, symphonic epic of, erm, epic proportions (a full 10 minutes plus), and is an excellent symphony of thrash, prog and classical motifs. Simone soars and screams above the mix. Yes, this is an epic worth of even their name! Orchestral Medley is indeed that, and includes a super mellow classical intro, then segues brilliantly into a flute and violin concerto. This is mostly instrumental, however with the inevitable Children of the Corn vibe on the vocals. Epica implements this particular styling almost seemlessly, as if they were born to do it. The Divine Conspiracy is more of the same, and this, the Anniversary Edition, no less, is another tune of (epic) proportions, coming in at just shy of the 8-minute mark.
Blank Infinity is a heavier number with the angel/demon vocal exercises and more crowd participation. I’m sensing a pattern here, perhaps, but not one that gets on the nerves, as some patterns are wont to do. The Obsessive Devotion is more of the same, with a particularly thrashy double-bass drum throttle and more of the angelic vocals mixed with the Cookie Monster growly stuff. The title track features a positively thunderous intro, and some very nice lead guitar and drum work. Battle of the Heroes and Imperial March is another instrumental, featuring the brass section and more violin. This is a very symphonic, yet very cool track nonetheless.
Quietus finds the band welcoming old members back on stage (Ad Sluijter, Jeroen Simons and Yves Huts). This, their breakthrough single, comes across very well live on stage. It begins innocently enough, with yet another classical motif, this time on flute, then the bashing begins. This track is an in-your-face symphonic metal beast. Simone, as usual, soars above the mix. The Phantom Agony features four-on-the-floor drums and more tour-de-force vocal exhortations. Somehow the drums and the violin/string section really jive well here. One wouldn’t think that it would work, but it does!
Cry For the Moon is, by turns, classicaly inspired (dig the violin intro) and slamming, thrashy and brilliant! As with most of the numbers here, the drums and the vocals play an integral role. Sancta Terra again features Floor Jansen. An incredible piece, front to back. Design Your Universe begins with a plaintive guitar/flute classical motif, before ripping our heads off and blowing our minds once again with its relentless onslaught. Storm the Sorrow is beautiful and menacing at the same time. Consign to Oblivion is another beautiful piece, as is the closer, conveniently titled Outrospect.
There you have it, folks. If it is your favorite genre, then you will immensely enjoy the slicing and dicing, or the mixing, if you will, of these works. I sense that this band’s repertoire may not necessarily be everyone’s cuppa. However, if you like Tarja or Floor or any of the myriad of siren-like vocalists now singing, and you appreciate the occasional thrash-your-mind out of today’s progressive metal, then you will love Epica’s latest monster of a live ‘retrospective’. If you do not like this particular genre (or mixing of the genres), then perhaps you had best go elsewhere for your listening pleasure! Enjoy and careful with the banging of the head, I have a sore neck now!